Books Unlocked helps prisoners explore a world of reading

02 Jul 2018
Books Unlocked NPR

We have just published the 2017 evaluation of our Books Unlocked programme, which supports those in prisons and young offender institutions, as well as others in community settings such as schools and libraries, to read for pleasure.

Thanks to funding from the Booker Prize Foundation, the programme provides free copies of Man Booker Prize-shortlisted titles for participants to read, discuss and keep, and the authors of these titles regularly visit prison and community reading groups as part of the programme. Audiobooks of the novels and author interviews are also broadcast on National Prison Radio, which reaches almost 80,000 cells across England and Wales.

In 2016 and 2017, Books Unlocked was run in 43 settings with 660 participants, with 1,250 books distributed. This year’s evaluation found that:

  • Over half the participants read a Man Booker Prize-shortlisted novel for the first time
  • Almost half of the participants say they read more than they used to before the project
  • Over two in five participants say they now enjoy reading more and that they are now more confident about their reading
  • Almost half of prison participants say they visit the prison library more than they used to

The positive impact of the programme was reiterated by quotes from participants, who spoke about how the programme helped them cope with life in prison, discover new books and authors and stimulate their intellectual and emotional development:

‘Reading is the one legal way in here to escape. […] In the pages of a book I can be miles away, a different person, a different time, living a different existence. That is why reading i[n] here is so important. I work with others and their reading to help them escape into books too.’

Participant, HMP Isle of Wight

‘I like the sessions in the library very much and the lady running them listens to us and when I go then I feel like I'm me again and what I have to say is something worth listening to, so I like it very much.’

Participant, HMP Foston Hall

‘[Reading makes me feel] Good. Feel that I'm learning and bettering myself. I feel more intelligent and more knowledgeable. Reading and learning is everything to me. I love gaining knowledge and insights. I find it enriching and life affirming.’

Participant, HMP Swansea